By Shan Reddy
Senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside and senior inside linebacker Bobby Okereke were picked on Friday’s day two of the 2019 NFL Draft, joining a long and heralded list of Stanford players in the NFL. Arcega-Whiteside was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he will join fellow former Cardinal Zach Ertz in an already stacked pass-catching corps. Picked in the third round, Okereke will head to Indianapolis to play alongside 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard.
An All-Pac-12 Second Team honoree and 2018 semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award given to college football’s top wide receiver, Arcega-Whiteside was one of the Pac-12’s most highly decorated players entering this year’s draft. However, most scouts projected him to go no earlier than the third round.
“I just have to take the mentality of being a fan watching and having my phone real tight to me, whether it’s the first or sixth round,” he said before the draft. “Any team that drafts me I’m going to be excited to play for. It’s an exciting time, but you also have to stay calm and not get your hopes up … I know the team that drafts me is the team I want to go to because they want me.”
The standout from South Carolina tied NFL Hall of Famer James Lofton’s school record of 14 touchdowns this past season, and his 1059 receiving yards ranked fifth-most in a single season in Stanford football history.
“I would say the two things I know for sure are that JJ Arcega-Whiteside can change field position and he can score touchdowns,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “You can look at his game and pick it apart, but those are two things that have been consistent on this level, in high school, and will be consistent on the next level.”
Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 225-pounds, Arcega-Whiteside is bigger than most of the receivers in his class and in the NFL as a whole. However, he put to rest any concerns scouts had about his speed and athleticism at Stanford’s Pro Timing Day when he ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash.
“I’m a complete receiver,” Arcega-Whiteside said shortly after the run. “I compare myself to Mike Thomas,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “He’s not the strongest, biggest, fastest guy on the field, but he plays football. He’s one of the best, if not the best, football players on the field. He’s smooth and a great route runner. Every time the ball is thrown his way, he catches it. That’s how I want to be.”
Though reports before the draft revealed that he had been invited for individual workouts with the San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, Arcega-Whiteside will kick off his professional career with the Eagles. He fits right in with a receiver group that includes 6-foot-3 wideout Alshon Jeffery, three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson and 2015 USC first-round pick Nelson Agholor.
“Even when he’s being held or grabbed or tugged or pulled, it does not matter,” said NFL scouting analyst Daniel Jeremiah about Arcega-Whiteside after he was picked. “He finds a way to get it done down the field. Look at the way that the Eagles have used Alshon Jeffery — the plays he makes above the rim — they got a younger version of Jeffery.”
Arcega-Whiteside was the sixth receiver off the board in the draft, selected at the 57th overall pick.
Bobby Okereke shot up draft board over the past few weeks, showing off incredible athleticism at the NFL Combine and Stanford’s pro day with a 4.58-second 40-yard dash time good for seventh-best among linebackers at the combine and a position-leading 37 on the Wonderlic (the NFL’s pre-draft intelligence test administered to prospects coming out of college).
Standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing 239 pounds, the senior has prototypical size for the inside linebacker position and is coming off of a 2018 campaign at Stanford that saw him lead the team with 96 total tackles (7.5 for loss) en route to All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors.
“Undersized but instinctive and rangy, Okereke plays fast and is generally on the right track with his initial reads and response to play development,” said NFL scouting analyst Lance Zierlein.
“Really good senior bowl and really good combine,” tweeted draft analyst Matt Miller shortly after the pick was made. “He fits what NFL wants in a three-down linebacker. Has range to go sidelines and can cover.”
Selected at the 89th overall pick, Okereke joins an young, ascending defense with the Indianapolis Colts that ranked eleventh in yards per game allowed and eighth in rushing yards allowed. The group boasts the NFL’s 2018 tackles leader, First Team All-Pro and Defensive Rookie of the Year in former South Carolina linebacker Darius Leonard, picked in the second round of the 2018 draft by the Colts one year ago.
“I’ve compared him to Darius Leonard for the past six months, and now they’re teammates,” tweeted former Seattle Seahawks scout and current Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy shortly after the pick. “Both are long and fast. Leonard more instinctive and Okereke more physical.”
Both team captains in 2018, Arcega-Whiteside and Okereke will certainly be missed on the Stanford football team and by the Cardinal faithful next season. Their former teammates on campus are no doubt looking forward to cheering them on next season as they take the next steps in their football journeys.
“It’s something I dreamed of as a kid so you just have to live in the moment,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “You only do this once in your life and I’m going to enjoy it. It’s an exciting experience to be part of this process.”
Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu.